Sports rules forever are evolving, like humanity itself. Along the way, many ideas that sounded good at the time have proved to be not so good after all.
With no games to watch amid the coronavirus pandemic, here is a look at 10 of the weirdest, no-longer-on-the-books rules of play in sports, just for the fun of it.
NO OVERHAND BASEBALL PITCHING
The National League was founded in 1876, but it was not until 1884 that its pitchers could use a radical strategy: Throwing overhand. In the first year of overhand pitching, Charlie Sweeney struck out 19 for the Providence Grays against Boston on June 7. No major-leaguer struck out more in a game until Roger Clemens 102 years later.
WOMEN CANNOT CROSS MIDCOURT
In 1892, women played basketball six-a-side, with two from each team restricted to one-third of the court. In 1938, three from each team were allowed on half the court but could not cross to the other side, lest they overexert themselves. In 1971, full-court five-on-five was instituted, but high schools in Iowa and Oklahoma clung to six-on-six rules into the mid-1990s.
NO FORWARD PASSING IN FOOTBALL
Before 1906, passing the ball forward was against the rules in American football. But with the game becoming increasingly dangerous — 1905 was a particularly bloody year — colleges across the country convened to clean up the sport and institute new rules that would open up the action and make it speedier and safer. Byproduct: The game also became more popular.
BASKETBALL COACHES ON MUTE
College basketball coaches’ reputations — and bank accounts — are built both on winning and looking authoritative during games. But from 1910-11 to 1948-49, the rules barred them from speaking to players during timeouts. This was in keeping with inventor James Naismith’s philosophy that players ought to figure stuff out for themselves.
GOALIES GONE WILD
For the first quarter-century of NHL history, if a goaltender was called for a penalty, he served it himself while a teammate did his best to man the net. Starting in 1939-40, said teammate was allowed to use a goalie stick and gloves for that purpose. At last, in 1941-42, a penalized goalie could stay put while a teammate went to the box for him.
NO BASEBALL ON SUNDAYS
Laws restricting frivolous activities such as sports on Sundays dated to the 18th century, and New York’s remained in place into the 20th century amid years of debate — and clever loopholes that allowed for some Sunday action. The law finally changed in 1919, and on May 4, New York’s first two legal Sunday pro games were played in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
NO FORWARD PASSING IN HOCKEY
It was not until 1929-30 that NHL rules allowed players to pass the puck forward anywhere on the ice. There had been earlier moves to allow forward passing, but they were restricted to the defensive and neutral zones. The change caused a boom in scoring. In 1928-29, the Bruins led the league with 89 goals. The next season, they led it with 179.
A CENTER JUMP AFTER EVERY BASKET
Until the 1937-38 season, college hoopsters had to assemble at midcourt for a center jump after every made basket. Naturally, this slowed down the game a bit. In the two years before the change, Hank Luisetti of Stanford was the unofficial national scoring champ at 14.3 and 17.1 points per game — lower than the leader in any season since.
GOLF BALLS GONE WILD
For most of golf history, the “stymie” was part of the game; in match play, when an opponent’s ball was blocking the path of yours on the putting green . . . you just had to deal with it, by chipping over or around the other ball. The rules governing stymies featured many wrinkles over the centuries but existed in some form until 1952.
NO DUNKING ALLOWED
The NCAA banned dunking for nine seasons beginning with 1967-68, for reasons that were not fully articulated but included safety concerns, the perception that it was not a skillful play, the dominance of UCLA center Lew Alcindor and what some — including Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — considered racism aimed at black players who had embraced the shot.